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September 2, 2015

Focus on the Family Tackles Super Bowl With Pre-Game Ad

by Gary Susman, posted Feb 5th 2010 12:45PM
In a move certain to amplify the controversy - and free publicity - it has already generated, Focus on the Family has announced it's running a second Super Bowl ad.

Like the first ad, the second spot, which will air four times during CBS' pregame show, also features Heisman Trophy-winner Tim Tebow and his mother, Pam, according to USA Today. No word on the second commercial's content or cost, but it seems certain to add to the outrage among abortion-rights advocates, who have questioned the first ad's accuracy and fairness and have protested CBS' seeming double standard in cooperating with conservative organizations to get their advocacy ads on the air while snubbing liberal issue ads.

The first Tebow ad, which Focus on the Family has kept under wraps, reportedly features Tebow's mother describing how, as a missionary in the Philippines in 1987, she contracted dysentery and was urged by doctors to terminate her pregnancy, an urging she disregarded, giving birth to Tim. Even before anyone has seen it, it's already become one of the most controversial ads in Super Bowl history.

Objections to the first ad have come from many corners. According to the Associated Press, a coalition of women's groups (including the Women's Media Center, the National Organization for Women, and the Feminist Majority) has called on CBS to reject the ad on the grounds that it will sow division and bigotry. "By offering one of the most coveted advertising spots of the year to an anti-equality, anti-choice, homophobic organization, CBS is aligning itself with a political stance that will damage its reputation, alienate viewers, and discourage consumers from supporting its shows and advertisers," the coalition said in a statement.

Feminist attorney Gloria Allred has argued that the ad may not even be accurate; she told Radar Online that she doubts Filipino doctors would have advised Pam Tebow to terminate her pregnancy, since abortion has been illegal under all circumstances in the Philippines since 1930. Allred has threatened legal action against CBS if it airs an ad that appears to be based on false information.

Even CBSSports.com columnist Gregg Doyel objected, writing that he disagreed with his network allowing politics to mar a day that should be solely about football.

Of course, no one outside Focus on the Family and CBS knows what the first ad actually says, though the evangelical group's CEO, Jim Daly, told USA Today that it had toned down the original ad in response to objections from CBS, and that the word "abortion" doesn't appear in it. In fact, as the Daily Beast reports, Focus on the Family and CBS spent months working together to come up with an ad acceptable to the network.

That, however, is the source of another objection to the spot. In the past, CBS has offered no such courtesy to liberal groups like the United Church of Christ, which created a Super Bowl ad touting the church's friendliness to gay congregants, a commercial CBS rejected in 2004. At the time, CBS cited a network policy against contentious advocacy ads. That policy apparently changed in 2009, with CBS accepting ads over the course of the year that advocated for health care reform and environmental causes.

However, the policy change was not widely publicized (even Focus on the Family didn't know about it until last month), and it still seems to be applied inconsistently. For this year's Super Bowl, CBS has rejected ads from gay dating site ManCrunch (a spot featuring two male football fans making out) and Web hosting service GoDaddy (a commercial featuring a pro football player-turned-transvestite fashionista). As Alonso Duralde, former arts and entertainment editor for the Advocate, told Inside TV, it seems CBS still has a double standard when it comes to ads with gay content.

If there is a more relaxed policy toward issue advertising, an abortion-rights group could always respond by buying its own ad, though NOW president Terry O'Neill told the Daily Beast that the cost of a Super Bowl spot (estimated at $2.5 to $2.8 million for 30 seconds) was prohibitive. "The fact is, if NOW had an extra $2.5 million lying around, I'd spend it on working for women's equality," she said. "I wouldn't give it to CBS."

In fact, Planned Parenthood has created a response ad, though it's streaming on the Web, not on TV. It features two famous athletes, former college and NFL star Sean James and Olympic gold medalist Al Joyner.

Planned Parenthood's Response to Focus on the Family's Super Bowl Ad

Does this mean that, from now on, Super Bowl ad space will be a political battleground as well as a showcase for commercials for beer and erectile dysfunction medication? Maybe, but Focus on the Family says it will sit next year out. As CEO Daly tells USA Today, "It would lose its punch."

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